I'll admit it. We ended up at Baroque Bistro lured mostly by the promise of dessert. We'd taken the selection of venues quite seriously - I'd even knocked up an online survey with a shortlist of options - and when the votes came in, the sweet tooths won with an overwhelming majority in favour of combining a bistro lunch with a patisserie finish.
The last time I'd been here, it was in the kitchen for the macaron masterclass. We press our noses up against the display counter of desserts as we enter, but we move on quickly to the dining room: today we're all about sitting back and eating well.
Extra virgin olive oil macarons
Pompadour raspberry and passionfruit mousse with pine nut nougatine and almond sponge
Baroque dining room
Locals and tourists looking for a quick cup of a coffee or a casual bite to eat tend to sit at the tables outside, ideal when the sun is shining like today. Inside the dining room is split into two areas, the first section facing the kitchen, the second accessed by a narrow doorway of exposed brick.
The inner dining room is super shiny with hanging copper light fittings reminiscent of the 1970s, and a metallic feature wall that creates multiple reflections. Curved booth seating along one wall is cosy for couples, but they miss out on glimpses of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House behind them.
There are no tablecloths to be seen, but the rose pink acrylic chairs and polished wine glasses create an distinct contrast against the rough and raw walls and metal pipes overhead. What the dining room does have is an abundance of natural light, filling the space with warmth and energy.
Roasted baby beetroot, goats curd, candied walnuts and cumin-infused orange $17
We're a group of six today and we manage to cover most of the menu with minimal overlap. Our dishes arrive neatly together, and are plated in an impressive fashion that prompts head-swivelling comparisons.
The roasted baby beetroot is a blackboard special, the segments of cumin-infused orange cloaked in a dramatic mist of dry ice (faintly visible in the shot above). The earthiness of baby beetroot pairs well with the candied walnuts, scattered around a curving trail of creamy goats curd.
Fricassé of calamari, saffron cracker and crab cream $19
The fricasse of calamari takes everyone by surprise with its appearance, but the nubbins of calamari pieces are tender albeit fiddly to eat. By this stage we're swapping plates left, right and centre for maximum tastings, and I'm quite taken by the saffron cracker which is crisp and fragrant.
The classic Coquilles St Jacques is livened in this version with kernels of sweet corn. Fat discs of seared scallops are played off against puddles of foie cream and caramelised curls of roasted onion.
I'd ordered the confit of Bangalow pork neck, and though the flesh is fatty and tender, I'm more enamoured by the baby leeks, split down the middle and charred on one side. They're sweet and smoky, and I eat the entire vegetable brush with glee. And could there be a more evocative-sounding sauce than a mussel and lovage emulsion?
The dish which got everyone all hot and bothered, however, was the one hour organic hens egg. A tentative prod with a fork bursts forth a splash of perfectly runny golden yolk. A ring of whipped potato is buttery rich and silky smooth.
A wander past the open kitchen had given me a preview of the preparation behind my main, the steak tartare. It arrives like a small turret, garnished with micro leaves and topped with an egg yolk still in its shell. Tipping the egg yolk onto the meat isn't a problem, but having a leftover shell with nowhere to put it feels a little awkward, particularly when I'm trying to mix everything altogether on my plate.
The tartare is a little fatty and over-seasoned with capers for my liking, and I'm left reminiscing about the admittedly much more expensive version I still dream about at the now defunct Forty One.
We take turns dipping our forks into dishes that run through beef, duck and seafood. Slices of Angus flank steak pair well with roasted cauliflower, made fancier with smithereens of frozen truffle snow.
Tea smoked duck breast is disappointingly mild in smokiness but cooked to a luscious and juicy shade of pink.
Grilled yellow eye mullet is also cooked well, served with roasted spears of heirloom carrots in purple and orange.
The thick tentacles of braised octopus receive mixed reports on tenderness, depending on their width, and the olive glaze on the side is a little overpowering. Saffron-boiled potatoes provide a striking contrast in colour but the potato galette, although pretty to look at, are soft and chewy.
For sides, we share the green beans in garlic butter ($9) and the creamy Paris mash, served in an ever-so-cute Staub La Cocotte miniature cast iron pot. The Paris mash is gloriously sticky, a thick puree that is generous with butter.
Perhaps it was my photo-taking, or maybe it was due to our large group happily ploughing through a three-course lunch, but our table is presented with a complimentary plate of macarons. The thin crisp shells give way to soft ganache-filled centres. The salted caramel macaron is still my favourite.
It's amazing how egg yolks, sugar and cream can have such a hold on so many women. The vanilla creme brulee arrives in a shallow dish, a rink of brittle toffee protecting a layer of silky custard. A scoop of pistachio ice cream on the side is overwhelmingly strong in flavour, and probably unnecessary against the simple elegance of the creme brulee.
I'd ordered the Valrhona chocolate tart, another surprise interpretation that is not the baked version I'd expected. A foamy layer of chocolate mousse is draped over a tart shell, but I have more fun with the mix of powders on the side. Delicate crystals of peanut snow melt instantly on the tongue whereas chocolate-covered pop rocks take their time to explode and create havoc against the roof of my mouth. Roast banana ice cream has the subtle taste of fresh banana and finding peanuts covered in gold dust is like discovering buried treasure.
Stone fruit compote looks and tastes so healthy, it feels more like breakfast than dessert. Yoghurt sorbet has a welcome tang and the elderflower granita is cool and refreshing.
The most spectacular dessert would have to be the white peach and almond souffle, jauntily rising above the constraints of its ramekin prison. The souffle is light and airy and generously served with a scoop of peach sorbet, macaron, two cats tongues and a decadent dusting of gold feulletine.
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Baroque Patisserie Macaron Masterclass
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3/28/2011 03:14:00 a.m.